When deciding to adopt a new architecture or technology vision, IT organizations spend a lot of time and resources to make sure the solution fits the business’s needs, that it is cost effective, and that it can scale as the business grows. Unfortunately, I often see those visions chipped away at by daily organizational pressures, ultimately undoing the potential benefits bestowed by the new strategy.
Does this sound familiar? Someone senior from a line of business or a large vendor decides they don’t want to use a new platform. Because IT doesn’t have as much clout, they are overridden and a parallel technology is implemented, sabotaging economies of scale and the ROI for the new platform.
In order to demonstrate the value of its investments, especially in large-scale implementations such as the software-defined data center or private cloud, IT will need a clear strategy to ensure new technology is adopted and used as intended. Below, I outline two strategies I’ve seen IT organizations successfully utilize to rein in architectural drift.
Find a Champion
The best way to maintain agility while making sure new platforms are adopted as intended is to find a champion with the influence to successfully defend IT decisions. This champion should be a line-of-business leader or other executive who can explain the reasoning behind the platform and the costs associated with changing it.
The first challenge of this approach is finding the right champion. The second is to shift the way IT relates to stakeholders generally, promoting earlier and more frequent socialization of ideas and solutions. The IT organization at an oil and gas company I work with is a good example of the benefits of both.
The head of one of the company’s four main divisions cared about cloud and his business unit helped drive many of the technology requirements. Although the group’s CIO was already very active with the business, he tended to talk with LOBs but then work in isolation to deliver a finished technology solution. Because the changes required for a cloud implementation were so broad, the investment so large, and the impact on the business so high, the IT team decided to involve their champion on the business side from the outset to help shape strategy.
This approach not only ensured the platform met the business’s needs, but also strengthened IT’s position through a champion who could explain exactly why decisions had been made and help persuade the business to follow them.
Productize the Platform
The second approach places a high priority on the stability of the platform. In this case, the platform is treated like a product, with set updates at defined intervals (say, every six months). I have seen this approach work well at a large financial institution where the IT organization decided to certify every version of software that made up the platform, from the applications at the top to the firmware in a physical box at the bottom. Any feature request goes through a rigorous testing cycle, and then can be assimilated with all concurrent changes in the platform’s next “product release.”
The IT organization’s biggest hurdle was convincing the business that the review process was important, despite their frustration with longer timelines. It helped that they had an executive mandate to make stability and security the top priorities. In addition, by providing a very specific process for change requests, IT eventually weaned the business off continuous, knee-jerk changes.
To help maintain agility within this controlled environment, the IT organization also implemented a self-service, cloud-provisioning function, allowing them to rapidly deploy services within the capabilities of the platform. And if the business’s needs can’t be met, as a last resort they can step outside the process, but only with executive sign-off and non-production development until testing is complete.
Neither of these approaches to organizational resistance is easy, but the alternative is untenable. By making an up-front investment in relationship building, stakeholder involvement, and clear process documentation, IT can strengthen its influence in and benefit to the business.